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Friday, January 18, 2013

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.'s Celebration Ale

  •  Style: American IPA
  • AVB: 6.8%
  • Season: Winter
  • Ease to locate: Widely distributed.  Check the beer locator here
  • Color: Amber with tints of gold & orange
  • Head: One finger with minimal lacing
  • Aroma: Balance of toasty biscuit, grapefruit and pine
  • Mouthfeel: Light, but not watery
  • Finish: Long and piney
  • Food friendly: Shellfish, Asian food, Mexican food, anything spicy.  Cheese pairing would be pungent varieties, such as Gorgonzola or other blue cheeses





What is a beer geek? Is it somebody who will only drink the most obscure craft beer they can find? Is it a person who can talk for hours on the various differences of American vs Old World hops? Or it somebody who just gets excited when discovering a new amazing beer, even if it's only really new to them?  A little over ten years ago, my brother and I took a tour around Italy. I usually bring at least two books with me on vacation and this was no exception. One of those books was the inaugural entry into a Chicago wide event called One Book, One Chicago. It was the ever beloved "To Kill a Mockingbird." Ever beloved by every one but me, since I had never actually read it before. You see, I've always been a voracious reader and I suppose all of my teachers just assumed that I would have tackled this book on my own at some point. They probably didn't think that it would take until my late twenties to do so. Anyway, here I am, reading about Atticus and Scout and Boo Radley amongst the great ruins of the Roman Empire and talking nonstop about it to any one who was unfortunately enough to be stuck at my dinner table. Can you believe what an amazing father Atticus was? Isn't Scout just the most insightful ten year old ever? Had they ever read it? Of course they've read it. Back in middle school, like any normal person. Anyway, I got used to the sly, condescending smile and shake of the head. It didn't bother me because I was enjoying the hell out of myself and didn't care who knew it.

My first sip of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.'s Celebration Ale was exactly like that.


                                                                                          Other things that make me geek out:  Eddie Izzard & Star Wars


When you go onto various beer lovers forum pages and peruse the holiday beer lists, you will find a lot of local and one off beers listed. It seems that every craft beer has a fig infused, orange peel zested, spiced ale with a cutesy, holiday appropriate name. Old Fezziwig Ale, anyone?  (actually, this one is really good. I wouldn't mind if Samuel Adams offered it in something other than their assortment pack. Hint hint). But strangely enough, the one beer that came up more than any other was Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale. An American pale ale? What was so Christmasy about that? But no matter where I looked, there it was, listed  as one of the beers that people were looking forward to the most. I mentioned it to my youngest brother (yes, the one who suffered through my geek out in Italy, but I suspect was secretly enjoying his superiority over actually having read a book before I did.). And what was under the tree for me Christmas morning? A self made six pack of holiday brew complete with a bottle or two of Celebration Ale. 

Sierra Nevada first brewed this seminal seasonal offering in 1981 (the brewery itself was only founded in 1980.). They use three separate fresh hops in their offering: Cascade, Centennial and Chinook. Fresh hops are hops that are dried and ship from the harvest field within seven days of picking. Most hops are harvested between the end of August and very early November. Now, a majority of these hops are used through out the year for a brewery's various beers. And just like dried spices, hops lose their intensity they longer that they sit on a shelf. Celebration Ale begins the brewing process only as soon as the first shipment of fresh hops arrives at the brewery. And they stop when the fresh hops run out.  You've got to love that.

What a gorgeous color

My Celebration Ale poured a bright amber color with hints of gold and orange. It was slightly cloudy with bits of yeasty goodness floating around in it. There was a one finger ivory colored head with minimal lacing. It settled after a while to a thin film that covered the surface of the beer. I could smell the rich, bready yeast right away. Toasty biscuit and an addictive grapefruit scent followed. I love grapefruit. In my beer, in my shower gel. I don't care. A bit of piney hops was also present, but not as much a I had feared. I took a sip. Or two. Or ten. I could taste the toasted bread malts immediately, with the piney, bitter hops right behind. The crisp grapefruit and slight grassy notes took a back seat in the taste wagon, but that only helped to keep everything in a wonderful balance. Honestly? This was good, good beer. And that was pretty much when the geek out started. The mouthfeel was light, but not at all watery.  Three was a crispness to it that made the beer extremely refreshing.  It sported a long, hoppy finish that was pleasant even for a non-pine loving drinker.

This was the view from above for most of the pint.  Nice, huh?
I am not a great fan of Pale Ales. I don't see what 's so great about drinking an evergreen tree. And I certainly didn't think that a thirty year old holiday beer would ever become my favorite brew for the Christmas season. But there you go. I'd drink this short run beer with any sort of shell fish, such as Mexican Shrimp & Chicken Soup, or even spicy Asian food. In fact, this would be my go-to brew for a local Thai place if it was around for more than a few months of the year. And I'm sure that I would totally geek out about the difference between fresh hops and wet hops and how sad it is that it's only available for such a short time and how the 65 bitterness units may seem like a lot, but they really assist with keeping the balance of the drink intact. And everyone would smile condescendingly and shake their heads.  But I wouldn't care as long as the glass was full.